Proposed changes to the building code could abet the construction of timber buildings to heights of 25 metres.
Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA) is developing a proposal for the inclusion of a deemed-to-satisfy requirement in the National Construction Code (NCC) for the use of wood in structures up to a height of 25 metres, in order to obviate the need for costly fire engineering work.
FWPA is developing the proposal with the assistance of fire engineering experts and in consultation with a number of industry bodies and professional associations.
While existing codes do not contain explicit curbs on the usage of timber in taller buildings, they do mandate major fire engineering work for wooden structures, which can make them unwieldy and expensive undertakings.
In order to assuage concerns about fire safety, the FWPA's proposal incorporates two key requirements: the installation of sprinklers for buildings greater than three storeys in height, and the use of fire resistant plasterboard for all exposed wood.
The deemed-to-satisfy requirement is considered by Ric Sinclair, managing director of the FWPA, as a convenient form of deregulation that will enable developers to pass the scrutiny of building inspectors by meeting simple and easy criteria.
In addition to deemed-to-satisfy requirement the proposal also hopes to introduce provisions to the building code to cover the usage of other types of timber building materials, such as Cross Laminated Timber.
Australia is already ahead of the curve when it comes to wooden high-rise buildings. Lend Lease's nine-storey Forte development in Melbourne's Docklands district is Australia's first high-rise apartment made from timber and its first Cross-Laminted Timber building, as well as the tallest timber building in the world.
If FWPA's proposal is accepted by the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) the changes are expected to dramatically cut the cost of building timber structures to greater heights, meaning that Forte may soon be joined by a host of similar developments.
FWPA has already engaged in discussions with a variety of professional bodies including the Property Council, as well as federal and local governments, in order to ensure that any industry concerns are addressed.
The proposal is due for submission to the ABCB by February 1, 2015, with a decision expected on the matter by May 2015. Should the ABCB agree to the changes they will be implemented in 2016.